The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has shortened the bridge between players and fans with its new Infield Chatter mobile social community. The platform already has over 1,000 players on board, interacting with a global fan base about baseball, hobbies and other topics. It’s been designed to streamline the interactions baseball players previously engaged with across social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

The free app is available on Google and Apple devices, offering major leaguers a new social platform to share unique content to their Infield Chatter accounts, including behind-the-scenes photos and videos that offer fans a more in-depth perspective of the players they cheer for all season long. Players share snippets of who they are away from the ballparks, taking fans inside their everyday lives by sharing interests, hobbies, and personal stories.

Timothy Slavin, MLBPA chief of business affairs, joined AListDaily to talk about this new form of social interaction.

What role have you seen the growth of social media play in helping the sport of baseball grow and connect with fans around the world?

Baseball players have a grueling schedule, so social media is a great way for them to stay in touch with fans while they’re on the go. And because social posts are best when raw and not “produced,” it makes it easier for fans to see the personalities and range of emotions behind the game faces observed on the field. In terms of the reach, social media doesn’t know any geographic boundaries. That’s good for us because of the global nature of our sport. After all, almost 30 percent of our guys on Opening Day rosters are from a country outside the United States. We want all of our fans, wherever they are, to feel like they’re as close to the game as possible.

How did the idea for Infield Chatter come about?

It really came from the players themselves. They asked us to find a way for them to better connect with fans, keeping in mind their schedule and playing commitments. A social media platform was a natural fit, especially given how more fans of all ages are so closely connected to their phones.

What void do you see Infield Chatter filling that current social media platforms leave open?

Infield Chatter is specialized for baseball fans, both serious and casual. Other social platforms definitely provide fans with opportunities to talk baseball, but only when mixed into broader discussions, and rarely bringing the players themselves into the discussion. We plan to be a deeper and richer engagement compared to anyone else. Separate from that, we know people naturally gravitate to others who have similar interests or backgrounds, so we think this platform will provide a built-in social ecosystem fans will enjoy. We think we’re on the front end of a change in the way people will consume social. Just like print media (Time, Newsweek) and broadcast media (CBS, NBC, ABC) started out targeting large audiences, and later evolved to specialized content for specialized audiences (Field and Stream (print), House Beautiful (print); Food Network (TV), Animal Planet (TV)), we think social media will evolve that way, too.

How are you seeing MLB players focus on Infield Chatter while also engaging with established fan bases on traditional social media platforms?

We’ve just started, so guys are getting used to the platform. Many players will continue using other platforms for a time, but they’ll gradually gravitate to Infield Chatter as the best place to share their special and unique content with fans. A big reason we think this is because we’ve got a moderator to eliminate any trolls. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that lots of players (and other celebrities) have concerns about the amount of trolling and negativity that happens elsewhere in social media.

What types of contests and competitions do you see Infield Chatter opening up for fans and what types of prizes do these open up?

We’ll have funniest video competitions, “double-dare-you” challenges between players, best impressions, karaoke competitions, trivia competitions. You name it. We expect to run everything from silly challenges to academic ones. Prizes can include cash, electronic devices, signed memorabilia, gift cards, “meet-the-player” opportunities, and tickets to events and games.

How are you seeing something as simple as a digital fist bump connecting MLB players with fans?

The overwhelmingly positive response from the fans to the fist bump was a surprise to many of the guys. The fans are really positive about it because they realize it means players are watching, and enjoying what they post. It makes things feel more personal, for sure. We’ve talked to a number of players about that feature, actually. They love it.

What type of real-time interactions are you seeing between baseball players and fans through this platform?

The AMAs have been great. It’s been fun to watch because the players and fans get into it. I never know what to expect from the questions or the answers!

Can you talk about the partnership with Honeycommb and how that company’s history of connecting with Lady Gaga’s global fan base has helped the MLBPA?

Sure. We selected Honeycommb as a partner because they have people with terrific experience succeeding in this space. The model proved itself with Lady Gaga’s platform, which was important for us in making the final decision to go with Honeycommb.

How was the MLBPA involved in the development of this app and its features?

We are in the trenches, but we’ve got partners who are experienced experts guiding us in the right direction. In terms of the day-to-day, the people with the relevant subject matter expertise tend to lead discussions in their respective areas, and then we try to make decisions together.

When you look at MLBAM, that tech company began with a focus on baseball and now covers multiple sports, as well as esports. What bigger picture opportunity do you see with Honeycommb?

There are tremendous opportunities to expand down the road, but we are not focused on that. We’re focused on getting this right—now. We want to walk before we run. As a start-up, we have to be patient because we understand some things take time.

How do you see this app evolving as feedback from fans is received? For example, multiple fans are asking for the ability to follow a specific player’s feed.

The good news is that we have control to make changes. If the fans want it, we intend to get it for them. For some changes, it may take a little time. For others, we can react instantaneously. And we’ll want to get the fans what they want whenever possible. After all, this whole thing started because of the fans.

Today’s youth is social media savvy. What role do you see Infield Chatter playing in introducing new fans to baseball at a young age? 

Infield Chatter meets them where they are. And through it, they’ll get everything on and off the field. They’ll have a renewed sense of how fun baseball is. And how they can get to know their favorite players much better than they will through a post-game interview or box score. We expect it’ll make going to the park that much cooler.

While the app is free, what type of revenue opportunities do you see this new social media platform opening up?

That’s not top of mind for us right now, but we’re always aware of costs. In the end, we’ve got to pay for this thing, and we know brands are asking us about commercial opportunity. So at the right time, we’ll need to consider advertising or sponsorship sales.

How do you see Infield Chatter helping the MLBPA brand as well as the brands of the 1,000 players who are active on this platform?

I don’t think it’s about the MLBPA. It’s really about the players. And they’ll feel closer from the fan perspective. Guys’ll be more human. And in some ways more relatable. That’s great for the game.